“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” ~ Plato
15 years ago, that would have been my response to Plato.
Can you relate?
There are lots of people in the world who show their battles clearly. If you’re like me, you can find compassion for those types of people pretty easily.
But what about the people who have it all together?
Who look perfect, who have the perfect relationship, who seem to have everything they want easily?
Or, the people who boss everyone around?
Or, the people whose personality turns others off the moment they meet?
Is it possible to follow Plato’s direction with those folks, too?
The Silent, Herculean Effort
One type of person who I’ve had a hard time having compassion for is the one who is continually saying, “Everything’s great!”
My knee-jerk response in the past was, “Must be nice!”
But my view has changed after working with many people like this as clients.
They are actually working incredibly hard to maintain their ideal-looking life.
They show up at my door when that effort has become overwhelming.
When I say to them, “You accomplish everything you set your mind to, but it’s very hard work, and it’s getting harder all the time,” they usually sigh heavily and agree.
Often, I’m the first person who has ever recognized their struggle to keep what doesn’t feel good under control and work like crazy to keep everything together.
And, they usually tell me that they didn’t even see how hard they were working until it started to feel impossible.
From that, I have found compassion for those who don’t yet realize that they are fighting some kind of battle, as well as those who feel the struggle but just don’t show it to the rest of us.
When Panic Turns Ugly
Another kind of person who hasn’t seemed to need my compassion is the know-it-all, win-at-all-costs type.
A friend who fits that bill gave me great insight into his internal battle one day.
I had seen him completely take over a situation in a way that wasn’t appropriate.
When I asked why he did it, his answer really surprised me.
He said he felt unsure of himself and he panicked, and that his response to panic is to take over.
When I panic, I get quiet and try to take care of everyone around me, so the idea that someone would do exactly the opposite was a revelation.
As a result, I view people who are dictatorial or super-competitive in a much more compassionate way now.
The Compassion Lens
To understand other people’s battles, I have found it helpful to look through the lens of Learned Distress®.
It’s the fear that there’s something wrong with us being just the way we are.
We all absorbed this feeling early in life and it becomes the source of moments that don’t feel good to us.
Everyone…really, everyone…is walking around with the fear that there something wrong with them.
That has given me entirely new perspective on everyone I meet.
The Compassion Question
When I see people behaving negatively these days, I stop and wonder to myself, “What fear is driving them in this moment?”
Is it that someone might see they aren’t perfect?
That their current situation is straying beyond the boundaries of what feels safe to them (even if it seems completely innocuous to me)?
That if this particular situation doesn’t fit their ideal, that the world might fall apart?
Even if I can’t figure out the specifics, I find it incredibly helpful to say to myself, “Oh! They’re just scared!”
What sorts of people do you have a hard time understanding or having compassion for?
I hope this lens will give you a little insight into their struggles, so that even if you don’t know what it’s like to be them, you can find a bit more kindness in your heart for them.
The world can use all the kindness it can get right now.
You have my permission to use and share this lens as often as you like!
Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.